July 25, 2019

How to Be A Marketing Data Visionary

Millions of data points. A singular vision. Those are at the core of the new NetApp campaign, and the results were pretty significant. Over 70% of folks who saw the campaign saw NetApp as “a new company,” while website traffic tripled. So, yeah, pretty successful. So how’d they pull it off? A blend of tactful digital rollouts, account-based marketing, and more. It also came down to the idea of being a data visionary, and that, as CMO Jean English puts it, “everyone wants to be a visionary.

On this episode, Jean further explores the notion of being a visionary, and the crucial role boldness played in shaping this successful campaign. In forming the campaign, and the marketing mindset, Jean wanted her team to stretch the idea as far as it could go, and then go a little bit further. She wanted to make sure people had far-reaching ideas, and then she wanted to test and experiment. Listen in to hear more about her fail fast and move forward mentality, about aligning her vision across the company, and more.

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Full Transcript: Drew Neisser in conversation with Jean English

Drew Neisser: Hey, it’s Drew, and we’re here live in New York City with Jean English, who is the CMO of NetApp. Jean, welcome to the show.

Jean English: Thank you, Drew. Happy to be here.

Drew Neisser: So, a couple of things. We had some time in Carolina in common, and I just learned you were actually born in Durham?

Jean English: I was born and raised in Durham, went to UNCW down in Wilmington, and then went back to Raleigh for most of my life, so North Carolina all the way.

Drew Neisser: Oh, that’s right. You worked at IBM in Raleigh.

Jean English: I did. I started there back in ‘99.

Drew Neisser: Wow. So, one of the things that we were talking about is how Durham has changed. When I was there, you know, in the Stone Age, there were literally like two restaurants, and now it’s like a food town.

Jean English: It’s a booming scene, culture, arts, food. It’s a great place to be.

Drew Neisser: Yeah! But you don’t live there anymore.

Jean English: I don’t live there anymore.

Drew Neisser: Where’s home now?

Jean English: Well, home is now California. I moved out to California for NetApp. And even when I was back in North Carolina, I moved overseas for two years as well. I was in Asia.

Drew Neisser: Well, your southern accent is sort of disappearing on you a little bit. Can you still come up with a “ya’ll” every once in a while?

Jean English: I always have a good “ya’ll.”

Drew Neisser: It’s so funny. I was down in Durham literally last weekend, and it’s like, you get off the plane, it’s ya’ll, period.

Jean English: Hey, y’all!

Drew Neisser: Now I’m going to tell you a funny story. So when I first got to Duke, it was football season, and the cheerleaders were doing a cheer, and it was “F I R D, people fired up,” and I had no idea the entire season what they’re saying. I finally tracked down a cheerleader. “What is that cheer?” She explained it. It’s “F I R E D.”

Jean English: That’s right. You’re getting fired up.

Drew Neisser: We’re fired up! All right. So I was asked the other day, a story, a funny story, what did I want to do when I was growing up? Do you remember what you wanted to do when you were a little kid?

Jean English: I do. I’ll start back. So from the age of about 5 until I was 18, we used to go on vacation twice a year, either to the beach or my grandparents’ house. And every single vacation, we would stop at McDonald’s for lunch and my dad would get the cheeseburgers and the French fries and the Cokes. We would sit down, and he would lay out the entire table of napkins, and he would put our little cheeseburgers down and he’d look across to me, and he would say, “Jean, I want you to be anything you want to be when you grow up. I don’t want you to depend on anyone to be able to make it in life.” And he told me that literally for 13 years, so it was a long time.

So when I was 9, I decided that I want to be the first woman president of the United States. And I learned cursive that year, so I wrote it and then I signed my name in cursive and went around showing my friends and my family. I obviously did not take that route.

Drew Neisser: Well, that’s alright. Amazing. So I had an introduction because I was giving a little talk at Duke, and they asked me that question. I have to share this story because it seemed to be amusing to folks, which was, when I was a little kid, I wanted to be a ping pong player spy. Because this was the time pre-Chinese American detente, and if I could be a professional ping pong player, I could go to China to compete and be a spy for the United States. It was rather complex.

Jean English: That is. It’s a good scheme, though.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, it didn’t work out so well because I went to a tournament shortly thereafter, I think by the time I hit 12, and I actually played some young Chinese folks who just wiped the court with me. That was the end of that dream.

Jean English: They would crush you.

Drew Neisser: Bubbles burst.

Jean English: Yeah, I lived in China, and ping pong is quite prevalent there.

Drew Neisser: Yes. And man, I even adapted the Chinese hold just to try to compete, but it was not a chance. All right. We’re talking table tennis here; we should be talking marketing. So you were at IBM for a while. Did you have some mentors there or some people that really helped bring you along?

Jean English: I did. About one year into my 17 years there, I was put into a next-generation program of leaders for IBM, so I got assigned a sponsor, mentor, and coach back in 2001 to help me really shape and form my career and help me along the way. Diane Brink, that’s who that is. I don’t know if you’ve heard of her. She’s recently retired. She’s sitting on a couple of boards. She’s an amazing woman. I loved her, and she really helped me in each step.

Drew Neisser: What a smart thing to do. I mean, so few companies actually do that anymore. I wonder. I mean, I’ve heard more recently people talking about reverse mentorships, where boomers or youngish boomers are getting millennials to coach them on things like social media.

Jean English: That’s what I had about 10 years ago. I was taking over social media, and said, I need to actually get on all the platforms and start learning, and I had a reverse mentor help me.

Drew Neisser: Nice. So, about a year ago, you made the leap to CMO at NetApp. First of all, what was it about that opportunity that appealed to you?

Jean English: Well, I had been the chief marketing officer for Asia-Pacific back at IBM, and I love being able to think about who was a customer, how do you partner with the senior leaders, how do you think about the reshaping of the company? When I got the call for NetApp, I was not looking to leave, but it was so appealing to think about a company going through a transformation. I loved our CEO, George Kurian, and he wanted marketing to come in and tell a new story.

And, of course, there is a lot more that happened even post that, but I think that, a company that had a magnificent brand, really high-quality products, and an amazing culture. They’re always known as one of the best places to work. And so I would call the culture kind. It’s a very kind culture. Just within like two weeks, interviewed, flew out to California a couple of times, and said, let’s make the leap. Let’s do it.

Drew Neisser: Wow. All right. So many interesting things there. I just want to make a note. One: I’ve had so many conversations recently with CMOs who have been successful, and it always comes back to having a great CEO, sort of number one.

Number two: Culture is interesting because the fact that they have a great one is one thing that you can say, “I don’t have to worry about that; I can actually leverage that.” And that’s not always the case. Often, when CMOs are on the job of transforming the brand, they also have cultural issues that they have to overcome to make it work. Because if you don’t have the culture aligned with the new promise, it’s not going to work.

Jean English: Well, it was one of the first relationships that I formed in the whole transformation of the company, was across all of the C suite, but especially with our CHRO as well.

Drew Neisser: Oh, interesting. Tell me, what made you think about that and pursue that? Why was that so important?

Jean English: Well, when I first got brought on, George wanted me to write the new story of NetApp. He thought that we had the portfolio. He thought that we were positioned well in the market, but that no one really knew what we did. And so his first ask was, “Please, come help us to tell our new story.”

Now, we didn’t call it a transformation. We didn’t call it a rebranding. But actually, we did a lot of that work, to think about how you reposition the whole company? The story was like the tip of the iceberg and when we started looking into what it would take to write the new story, there was a story there. I went into a customer advisory board with it, and I said, “You know what? I’m just going to pitch this story. They’ve been working on it for a few months, let me just see what the reaction is.” They hated it.

Drew Neisser: Uh oh.

Jean English: They hated it. So, I walked out the door, I threw it in the trash, and I rebooted.

Drew Neisser: Wow.

Jean English: I needed alignment across the C-Suite team, so I partnered with our strategy officer, with our technology officer, with the founders of the company, and I said, “Let’s go rewrite the new story of NetApp, and let’s go pick something that might be so small in revenue today, but is the future of where we want to go.” So we started to really hinge on what was our North Star for the company.

And getting alignment across the team was super important. We went back to the CEO, we went back to his board and basically said, “Let’s tell the new story of NetApp.” In that, though, I said, “How are we going to bring along 10,000 plus employees with this journey?” From talking about storage to data, from people knowing us as being this on pram box company, to being in the cloud and doing software, and services, and cloud services. So I said, “What’s happening this year?” And it happened to be the 25th anniversary of the company.

I teamed with our head of HR, Glenn MacDonald at that time, and we decided to do a 25th anniversary for the company. And so we did 49 celebrations around the world celebrating the 25th anniversary, which recognized the history and the legacy of the company but was helping us to pivot to the future as well.

Drew Neisser: That’s a great place to take a break. I just want to mention—you said that a lot of folks don’t know what NetApp does. I wrote down “the data storage company.” That was what I had for you. And I knew I had heard of the company, but I wasn’t sure. 10,000+ employees, $6 billion in revenue. You’re a large company.

Jean English: Fortune 500.

Drew Neisser: Fortune 500. Stay with us. We’ll be right back.


Drew Neisser: We’re back with Jean English, CMO of NetApp, and we’ve been talking about pivoting and how you can take a 25-year-old company with a very strong track record and known in the data storage world—as you said, as more of a hardware company—and transition. As you were doing your homework and you partnered with all these folks, what were some of the key insights that helped you build a platform for the future?

Jean English: Well, first, we needed to look at, “What did our customers care about?” They were all going through pretty big transformations on their own, and they needed to leverage the cloud. They needed to create applications really fast and deploy them quickly, so we had to think through, what is the role of the changing environments of our customers? Even with them creating, you know, digital transformation officers or data officers, how are they starting to think differently about their own data and their own transformation?

So we said, “What is it that we do to help them?” And we said, “Well, sure, people are still going to have on-prem storage, that’s great. But more and more people want to use the cloud.” We said we need to partner with some of the really big cloud companies and not just have a storage appliance, but really have a good data service for storage. We started partnering with Microsoft and Google, and AWS, and we’re actually the only company that actually works across all of those biggest clouds in the world to help people manage their data.

Drew Neisser: Interesting. So, you’re not a cloud storage company. That’s what they do.

Jean English: They’re the clouds, and we build the services in their clouds.

Drew Neisser: I see, so you’re agnostic when it comes to which cloud you work with. Whatever it is, you can put all your stuff up there, but we’ll help you get it there.

Jean English: And each cloud provider has their own unique value. We feel that our customers will choose the cloud that they want to be in. And mostly, it’s multi-cloud. Most companies aren’t just choosing one. They’re having to think across all of the clouds and the businesses. They’re choosing the clouds they want to be in based on their own applications. We are basically working with our customers to determine what data they have, what should go in the cloud, what should stay back within their own environments, and we call that our data fabric. And we think that customers are building a data fabric for them.

Drew Neisser: That’s interesting language. It was the first time I had seen that when I was doing some homework for the show. What is a data fabric? Is that a new language and is that language that you created?

Jean English: We actually did create the term 5 years ago. George Kurian got on stage at our global conference and said customers will have to think about how they build a data fabric. It’s really about how do they manage data, in applications, across any environment, cloud, or back in their own data centers, so that they have consistent and persistent services across all those environments? It’s all about managing their data, and they have to seamlessly be able to manage it in this time.

Drew Neisser: And what’s the fabric part? Is there a metaphor there? I mean, fabric, I feel like I can touch it. Is there some meaning that I’m missing?

Jean English: It’s all about the connective tissue, for sure. You know, being able to seamlessly go across all those environments does need to be a fabric. It actually was just named as a top trend, now in the Gartner latest trends for next year is data fabric. And so we’re excited that other people are seeing the value in this as well.

Drew Neisser: And hopefully, you own the search term, so when anybody types it in, they find NetApp.

So, the coining of that phrase and helping people understand a new way that data will be stored and used and so forth… Were there any other insights that allowed you to say, “OK, we were here, we’re kind of hardware, and now we’re going to make this pivot in a way that we can sort of bring that idea across?”

Jean English: Well, we went through a whole branding exercise to think about, where are we today? NetApp is very technical. It’s a technical company, which I love. I love that it makes really good products, so that’s number one and foremost, but sometimes a little timid. And so we said, “How do we shift to be more strategic and bold and visionary? How do we start to pivot the company and even the personality of who we are and how we show up?” So that was one of the big transformations too.

Drew Neisser: Just be louder?

Jean English: Well, be more confident.

Drew Neisser: OK, just be out there. It’s funny because if you think about it, data storage is sort of behind the scenes and you sort of acted like what your brand did. And now you have to be more front and center.

Jean English: We’re front and center because it’s about the data, not about the storage itself.

Drew Neisser: Exactly. In some ways, I felt like you were going from dumb boxes to something smart and something that has more to it. And I was wondering if there was going to be services or insight or anything that sort of could come from this data. Because nobody really cares about data storage, they care about what you do with the data.

Jean English: That’s right. In this pivot, we recognized that there was a break in the category of storage software. So we went to IDC and said, “We’re seeing this break here, what do you see?” And they actually agreed and created a new category called hybrid cloud data services, of which they called NetApp a visionary and a leader in that category because of our thinking around data fabric.

From that time—so I’ve been here almost three years, two years ago is when the new category was announced, we were being seen as a leader. And now we have over 10 services that we provide on cloud insights, Cooper NetEase as a service, how do you think about backing up your data? How are you able to migrate data? How can you work with this data in any cloud that you want to? And that’s been in less than two years.

Drew Neisser: Interesting.

Jean English: A whole new division formed in the company.

Drew Neisser: A whole new division formed to back up this new category. It’s interesting to me because there’s some excitement about creating your own category. And then there’s this—”Oh, well, we’re the only ones in it,” so you need someone else, a third party, to codify it, to say this is real, not just marketing. There’s something there. There’s a business. And therefore, we need to have analysts looking at it as a distinct idea. Was it hard to persuade IDC and did the other analysts come along?

Jean English: It was not hard to persuade. Once we provided some of the data on the brakes and what was happening with AI in data, what was happening with data in the cloud, they saw the opportunity. And we said, “You go work it. We don’t need to work it. You can do it.”

Drew Neisser: Right. And it’s good for them, I imagine, to have a new category and be the leader in it analyzing it. OK, that makes sense. I know it’s difficult—if you are in a new category, but if RFPs are going out in the old category, it gets a little tricky. And I know that some brands, in particular smaller startup software companies, are sort of struggling with that decision. It’s like, we want to be discovered over here when people are actually searching for something, but we’re really different. And that’s a tricky position to be in.

OK, so you know you want to get this message out. First of all, how did you articulate it? Is there a 10 word or less encapsulation of this new position?

Jean English: Sure. We are the leader in hybrid cloud data services. And we believe that we are definitely the data authority in hybrid cloud. So part of that confidence and boldness and visionary is that we’re an authority. We have advisors; we have services to help people to be in a hybrid multi-cloud world, and so we’re excited about where the transformation is going inside of NetApp, but more importantly, we’re excited about where our customers are going.

Drew Neisser: Ok. So, hybrid cloud. I think I understand what that is.

Jean English: Yes, hybrid multi-cloud now.

Drew Neisser: Multi-cloud, as in Google, Amazon, that kind of multi-cloud?

Jean English: That’s right.

Drew Neisser: What’s the hybrid part of it? What does that mean?

Jean English: Well, I think the reality is that, yes, a lot of different workloads and applications are being either moved to the cloud or they’re really leveraging services in the cloud, but some people still want to be within their own data centers, too. There are some things they don’t want to move, so we can help them with all of it.

Drew Neisser: OK. Hybrid cloud. So you have this idea, and it’s essentially redefining a category. How do you then go about launching it? Did you launch it internally first?

Jean English: I did.

Drew Neisser: Good! Excellent! Check! Tell me how long you spent doing that before you launched it externally?

Jean English: When I first was asked to rewrite the story, remember, I left the advisory board, I threw it in the trash. That was in September. In October, I gathered the team. By December, we had written the first draft of the new story. We’d actually started working out with IDC on this new category. We would just say, “Hey, we think there’s something here, you go run with this”. We were starting to launch the new brand, and what would the brand look like, and what was the big concept? We were also thinking about repositioning the portfolio, doing a lot of portfolio management work, and thinking about the portfolio’s capabilities.

Then we started to think through, now, how are we going to get this out? We started with our senior leadership meeting and launched it with all of the top 100, 120 senior leaders in the company and let them know the story. We were on version 400 at the time, and then, basically, we had gotten their feedback and their input and their support.

We then said, “Well, it’s hard to transform if you can’t get the front line of the sellers on board,” so we designed and created all of the content and the training for our sales force that year in partnership with our head of sales. We did all of the breakouts and the main stage content, then rolled out, how do you think about this new story, what are the key customer needs that they needed to focus on—with some key use cases—as well.

Drew Neisser: Yeah. So, I’m leading the witness here a little bit, but my next book, which is a ridiculously simple playbook for B2B innovators—once you have a big idea, the critical next step is to communicate to employees. I’ve talked to many CMOs, as you know, and that is one of those that is often overlooked, or they’ll give it less than a month. In the survey that we did for the book, less than a month was the average for launching a new big idea. How can you do that? How can you be successful when your employees barely get to see it before the customers?

Jean English: Yeah. We did everything internal first. And then when I talk about the 25th anniversary, that’s when we unveiled it. We did that week with the analysts, we did it with over 10,000 employees. We had already done it with our 3,500 sellers, with the senior leaders. So by the time we had gotten through all of those steps to get people bought in internally, we launched the brand new data visionary campaign externally in June.

Drew Neisser: Perfect. Great place to take a break. We’ll be right back.


Drew Neisser: We’re back. We’ve been talking about launching a new brand and a brand campaign and the critical importance of doing it internally first. As we were wrapping up that segment, you talked about data visionary. That sounds so cool. Talk about that, what that meant, and how you brought that to life.

Jean English: We believe that our customers who were able to really harness the value of data in very different ways are visionaries. We have customers like DreamWorks that are good partners with us right now. We’re really helping them to reimagine. How did they bring, with their latest movie, “How to Train Your Dragon 3”— their first one? One dragon on the scene because it would literally break the machine if they had more. It would break the power that they were trying to drive.

Now, over 65,000 dragons can show up, so we’ve basically been helping them reimagine how they bring joy and this entertainment to life through their movies. That is in good partnership with NetApp.

Ducati is one of my other favorite stories. We work with them to think about how they get the data from every single sensor point on the bike, how is the rider experience that bike. They can basically take the performances and the championships that they race on the weekend and release that to their riders on a Monday. It’s that fast in being able to harness all that data for their community. It’s not just about the bike, about the data, or about NetApp and what we provide and our services, but it’s about how they harness the community of Ducatistas.

Drew Neisser: That sounds like something that we would use in Durham, by the way.

Jean English: I love it. That’s right.

Drew Neisser: Although, we really now, or at least we were for a year, we were Zionists.

Jean English: Of course, I’ve been watching him closely.

Drew Neisser: Oh, my gosh.

Jean English: The shoe incident!

Drew Neisser: Yes! And Nike’s stock losing a billion dollars in value overnight.

Jean English: That’s a brand.

Drew Neisser: So as I’m listening to you talk about these cases, I’m reminded of, after we communicate the big idea to employees, we then go to customers. It’s interesting that’s the first thing that you brought up. And it’s so important as you launch a new campaign, not just to have great case histories, but also to communicate this idea to customers because you’re essentially saying, “Hey, you knew us like this, we’re still that, but we’re more now.” So talk about how you communicated this sort of transition or pivot to your customers?

Jean English: Sure. A lot of the transition was in how do you look at all of the different data points to have and bring them together to really execute on the vision that you have as a company? So that was the premise of the campaign: millions of data points, a singular vision. So NetApp can help any company do that through what we have with data services. And again, this notion of hybrid multi-cloud, we’ve been talking about this for a while. We realized that most companies were not going to just choose one cloud or another. And we felt like the value that we could bring was a neutral third party. We are helping customers where they want to go and what they want to choose, but the services we could provide would really help them. We’re seeing that after we launched this campaign, more than 70 percent saw us as a new company.

Drew Neisser: Whoa, that’s a big number.

Jean English: So if they see the campaign, they’re like, wow, this is amazing. We have tripled the number of people that have come to our website in less than a year and a half. So that was something where we weren’t sure how many people we would drive in addition, but basically, it’s a 300% increase.

Drew Neisser: Wow, ok. So you had this big idea of data visionary. You must have had a pretty big boost in awareness in your reach. How did you get to get the word out to get a 300% increase?

Jean English: We started doing online advertising, targeting, and doing account-based marketing to some of our top customers. So we selected, in partnership with our sales team, who we wanted to target. We knew that those customers were gonna be different. So one of the biggest shifts we had to make was, how do we think about going to new buyers? Those were not people that we’re currently buying with us today. So it wasn’t even about rebranding; it was like introducing ourselves to these new buyers.

Drew Neisser: So you were doing business with this company, but now you need to do business with somebody different? Or are these new prospects that you’re talking to?

Jean English: Well, a lot of the accounts have multiple buyers. We think of people in a tribe now. So we weren’t reaching all of the tribe. We were reaching maybe the storage administrator or storage architect, but not the CIO or the data scientist or the chief data officers. We weren’t talking to them yet, so we needed to introduce ourselves to them. Our customers, which were those storage administrators, storage architects, said, I’m not in the room right now, so you need to sell my boss and get in their mindset.

Drew Neisser: So this is a little bit of a debate, and I’m pushing our clients to rethink this notion of persona marketing. And I’ll tell you why. What I’ve noticed, and this is not just me, this is for Brent Adamson of Gartner, I’m channeling his notion- that persona leads to specific and often different stories for each of the people in the room. So when they get together, they have a different vision of what the company is, and they can’t coalesce, so it actually results, based on Gartner’s research, in less success than more. That doesn’t mean that you can’t create specific tools for a CFO or a CISO or other things like that, but they need to sort of build to one idea. How did you approach these different and new people that are new targets for you?

Jean English: I agree with that story. I feel like the tribe is making decisions. I think we’re seeing right now that it’s gone from 5 to over 10 people who are making decisions in technology. So they do have to have the same story to be able to come into a room. I think there are different nuances of the story: A CFO cares more about the cost and how to reduce cost. The CIO cares about how they are going to give a service, serve their internal clients, and what it means to be able to have growth for the company. The storage administrator cares about the machines’ performance, so they can make sure that they’re either administering it correctly or getting the maximum value out of the application that’s running on it. And then, the cloud architect cares about how am I going to leverage different clouds to be able to serve the internal needs of my customers. So hybrid cloud data services, we’re focused on how you can manage that in all these different environments? It is definitely about optimizing operations. It’s about how do they drive new services? It’s about leveraging the cloud. But that is really what we see in data fabric. So we stay with that premise of data fabric. But we think about, what are the different trigger points that people have to look at?

Drew Neisser: One of the interesting things, to me, about data visionaries, is I could argue you could tell each of those people in the room, “you’re all data visionaries.”

Jean English: Yes.

Drew Neisser: Right? So they can all feel good about that and how they fit into this and that they’re seeing farther, and that they’re touching data. So there is a common thread there, so the pieces can add up. And again, I want to be clear, I’m not saying you don’t need specific tools for each of these groups, but if they don’t add up to the same idea, if they don’t build, and they’re not additive, it won’t be as successful.

Jean English: And everybody wants to be a visionary.

Drew Neisser: Yes, they do.

Jean English: It’s an aspirational and inspirational thought.

Drew Neisser: Yes, they do. OK, so as we think about this program—you talked about the measurement in terms of a 300% increase in site traffic. What were the metrics that mattered to you? And then, if there’s a counterpoint to that, were there metrics that mattered to your boss more?

Jean English: We look at brand awareness, and are we changing the minds of the people we want to business with? Are we acquiring new buyers? Are we acquiring new customers? Those are definitely key metrics in that as well.

Drew Neisser: Let me stop you for a second—so you have brand tracking in place?

Jean English: Yes, we do brand tracking. Again, we were seeing that when we had the advertising, 70% of people’s minds changed about what we did.

Drew Neisser: There you go.

Jean English: So, that was a great first step.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, that’s huge.

Jean English: The second step—were we getting people to be able to then connect with, not just the perception of NetApp, but did they actually start to engage with us? And by the way, 84% of those people had never been to NetApp.com before.

Drew Neisser: Wow.

Jean English: So, they had never considered us, had never been there, and now they’re starting to think about the services we have. Our first year in was really about getting that brand perception. The question that we got back was, so how do I get started? How do I work with you? That’s when we started connecting the brand to the portfolio and the services we provide. What we’re seeing now, in year 2, we get a 12x in terms of lead conversion when they come in through the brand, and then we drive them to the portfolio.

Drew Neisser: Oh, wait a second. Let’s just repeat that. So they get the big brand idea of data visionary. Then you lay the product information underneath, and bingo, you have a 12x?

Jean English: 12x conversion in leads.

Drew Neisser: Oh, wow. This may be the greatest case history we’ve ever recorded in the history of Renegade Thinkers Unite! Wow. That’s a big number. Why is that?

Jean English: I think the fact that, when we first went out, we wanted to change that perception. But as soon as we did, this was hitting a common need. People were thinking, “I have to be able to look at data differently in my environment. I do want to use multiple clouds. I do have to think about hybrid. I do want to make sure that I’m optimizing the operations within my data centers. I also want to get applications out faster.” Dev ops, key for their environments.

And so that “how” piece became critical. You don’t necessarily think, “I’m going to do a brand campaign and then I’m going to pepper in services inside of that,” but all of our customers were asking for it, so we did. So with that transition of being able to connect the two together, we are finding that that’s what’s giving us the power to get those leads in which, of course, our sales team and CEO care about.

Drew Neisser: Right. So, brand to product to conversion. Also, since employees were an important part of that, do you track employee engagement and brand health there?

Jean English: We have been tracking it to make sure that they understand it. We had everyone do the data visionary training as well.

Drew Neisser: There you go.

Jean English: So everybody knows the story, and we’ve had great success in having our employees be able to learn the story as well. Also, in the very beginning, we said, “How do people change that internal connection?” Because people may have been connected to the product that we were making with the box. But we said, “How did people get connected to data?:” So we had them tell their own data story. And some of them were so heart-touching, from babies that had been diagnosed with a health problem early in life and being able to get each piece of data throughout the hospital visits and throughout the surgeries, to now showing their children thriving and playing baseball. Sometimes thinking about data is about, sure, the data that’s inside of companies, but sometimes it’s about a baby.

Drew Neisser: Wow. And these are employees stories?

Jean English: Yes, employees’ stories.

Drew Neisser: That’s so great and so important in all of this because ultimately, they’re the ones who make it happen.

Jean English: They’re the ones who make it happen. Absolutely, and they’re the heart of the company.

Drew Neisser: I’m going to attempt to wrap this up, but I have one more question for you. As you launch this new data visionary program and the hybrid cloud, was there a new product underlying this change in route and perception?

Jean English: Well, early on, it was one product that we had, which was a software product to help people gain insight into where their data was in their environments. Now, we have an entire suite of services.

In less than two years, we’ve built out an entire suite of services, of which a couple of our services are first-party services that are really through Microsoft and Google. It’s their service, not our service. And so, the partnerships have strengthened. I think the whole ecosystem of relationships has strengthened from NVIDIA with what we’re doing in AI, to, of course, the cloud providers that we’re working with. But how do we think about what those services are now that’s really shaping the whole company? We put the vision out there. We said, “Here’s the North Star: hybrid cloud data services. This is who we are.” I think the partnership and the strength of the leadership team, who think through, what does it change in our portfolio? What do we change in terms of R&D? What do we change in terms of the partnerships that we create? It has been a magnificent two years.

Drew Neisser: There you go. I’m going to let you do the wrap-up. If you were looking back on this, give me two dos and a don’t for other CMOs who might be listening to this show.

Jean English: Sure. Well, as I tell the whole company, “Be bold.” Go for it. Put the bold idea out there. Think about how you stretch all the way to the possible limit of what you think it is, and then go a little further. Put the bold ideas out there.

Next do: You have to just do it, to learn. Test it out, experiment, take it out to customers, to partners, get feedback along the way. They say fail fast and learn and keep going forward. I feel like that’s what we’ve been doing every single step of the way.

Don’t: Don’t think it’s a marketing endeavor by itself. It’s not a campaign. It actually was a complete story and transformation. If I hadn’t partnered with everyone across the C-Suite, I wouldn’t have been able to do this because it actually became the strategy of the company, not just a marketing campaign in itself.

Drew Neisser: Exactly. It’s so funny—a lot of times we’ll be called in, and someone will say, “We have a marketing problem.” And then we’ll say, “Let’s step back. I think you have a bigger problem and a bigger opportunity, and that is to transform the company based on a new vision.” That’s what sounds like has happened for you.

Jean English: That’s what’s happening; it’s great.

Drew Neisser: That’s amazing. All right, I can summarize this pretty quickly. One: Have an insight that can drive your business forward on multiple levels. Two: Have an internal—in this case, you were really creating a new category. That helps. Three: Make it real with some new products. Four: Go right to employees and get them on board. Five: Get your customers involved and celebrate them. They’re the heroes of the story. And then finally, measure against each of those targets. With that, Jean, thank you so much for being on the show.

Jean English: Thank you, Drew. It has been absolutely fantastic. Thanks for having me.

Drew Neisser: And to all the listeners of Renegade Thinkers Unite, I’m so grateful for the time that you spend with us. I could also ask you a favor, write a review if you would, or just check the box on iTunes or your favorite podcast channel. And of course, until next time, keep those Renegade Thinking Caps on and strong.





Quotes from Jean English

Everybody wants to be a visionary. It's aspirational, it's inspirational.
Put the bold idea out there. How do you stretch it all the way to the limit, and then go a little further?